The origin of the term Skyscraper dates back to the 1880s, when advancements
in construction materials made it possible for buildings to be taller than the
usual three or four stories. The earliest skyscrapers were between 10 and 20
stories, towering over their shorter neighbors and seeming to touch the heavens.
Today even some of the buildings have upwards of 100
stories. As such, the term "skyscraper" has no numerical requirement.
Instead it refers to any tall, continuously habitable building that sticks significantly
up over the other buildings in the surrounding area.
The Advancements that Spawned Skyscrapers
It is Henry Bessemer, the inventor of the decarbonization process that turns
iron into steel, who is credited with making the construction of skyscrapers
possible. A steel frame was able to support much more weight than the masonry
in use at the time, opening up a whole realm of vertical construction that would
eventually infiltrate everything from financial planning to real estate. Electric pumps also made it possible to supply water to the higher
floors of tall buildings and the invention of the elevator made it possible
to quickly move the building's occupants between floors.
The First Skyscraper
The first building to bear the name "skyscraper" was the ten storey
Home Insurance Building in Chicago. It was designed by architect Major William
LeBaron Jenney and was the first building to be supported by an inner steel
skeleton rather than by its exterior walls. Despite the city's concern
over its relatively light weight, the building was successfully occupied by
office workers pursuing stocks, bonds, and network marketing leads for nearly
fifty years before it was torn down to make way for a bigger building. Its legacy
lives on, however, as its steel frame inspired a revolution in the load-bearing
structure of buildings.
Image of the Home Insurance Building
Though skyscrapers first became popular as financial offices at the end of
the 19th century in cities like New York, Chicago and London, where the downtown
areas were running low on land, modern skyscrapers serve many purposes. They're
built to house residential units as well as offices for companies specializing in everything from liaising with government agencies to mighty condominiums for sale. Toronto, New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, London, and other big cities still lead the world in numbers of skyscrapers. However, outlying metropolitan areas
like Burnaby and San Diego and up-and-coming cities in developing areas like
India, China and the Middle East are quickly catching up.
Competing for the Tallest Skyscraper
The race to steal the tallest skyscraper title from its current holder is as
vicious and fast-paced as class action suits in Canada. The first five record
holders: the Flatiron building, the Woolworth building, the Chrysler building,
the Empire State building, and the World Trade Center all belong to New York.
They were surpassed in 1974 by the Sears Tower in Chicago. The first non-American
record holder was the Patronas Towers in Kaula Lumpur, Malaysia in 1997. Since
then the pace has picked up, with Taiwan's Taipei 101 taking over the
title in 2004 and the as-yet uncompleted Burj Dubai in the United Arab Emirates
poised to take over.